The FDA experts committee voted 20-0 with one abstention Thursday night, Dec. 17 that the benefits of the Moderna covid-19 vaccine outweighed its risks in people aged 18 and older. Israel announced earlier that, with the first batch of 313,000 Pfizer vaccines in hand, its vaccination drive against coronavirus begins on Sunday, Dec. 20. Medical personnel get the first shots, followed the next day by high-risk cases and persons over 60. Pfizer has contracted to supply Israel with eight million doses, enough to inoculation 4 million with double shots a month apart. Half are due for delivery by the end of the month.
Israeli authorities are racing against the clock as coronavirus infection figures (R rate at 1.32, new cases averaging 2,240 a day) threaten to veer out of control, making another round of stringent restrictions unavoidable amid rising popular resistance to shutdowns – especially of commerce.
More than a 100 towns and districts have fallen under the dread “red” designation meaning that their schools too will be closed.
Moderna will be Israel’s next supplier of the vaccine, after Pfizer, having committed to deliver six million does after Israel tripled its first order on Dec. 6.
A week apart, both drug manufacturers have been given the green light for emergency use with no safety issues for people aged 18 and older, aside from pregnant women and children. And both use the same mRNA technology, which has proved close to 95pc effective for preventing covid illness in limited trials. Some recipients received transient flu-like symptoms such as fever, fatigue and aches, especially after the second dose and their immune systems reacted. Sceptics point out that these trials were not enough for long-term data.
But there are also some differences. About 1.5pc of Moderna vaccine recipients and 1.1pc who got placebo shots reported possible smaller, “hypersensitivity” reactions. The FDA found no serious allergic reactions in the Moderna product. (Even when caused by the Pfizer vaccine, the immediate application of antidotes may counter this effect.)
Recipients tend to experience temporary flu-like side effects that can include fever, fatigue and aches, especially after the second dose as the vaccine revs up their immune system.
Where Moderna has the big advantage is in the ease of transport over long distances. Pfizer’s vaccine must be shipped and stored at minus 70 Celsius degrees and used within five days of removal from ultra-cold storage. Special giant storage tanks are being built in the Negev to accommodate the vaccine. Moderna’s product, in contrast, can be transported and kept in an ordinary freezer at minus 20 degrees, or 30 days in a home refrigerator.
The first 100 million Moderna does will be doubly welcome in the United States for reaching rural and remote areas. Hospitals threaten to be overwhelmed by record numbers of patients – with 247,403 new cases and 3,656 deaths surpassing former single day records.